Profile: Megan Myfanwy Price

Today is Disabled Access Day, so we sat down with Megan from Don’t DisAbility to have a chat about disability, raising awareness, and what we mean when we talk about accessibility.

To start with, can you tell us a bit about you? What made you decide to come live in Cornwall?

I study Events Management at Falmouth, and honestly, this was the only course that is practical for me. My friend in college sent it to me because it was specifically advertised as a practical course - I’m much more of a do-er than a thinker. When I applied, I didn’t really think I would actually go. I’d never been to Cornwall ever in my life and I’d never heard of Falmouth before, so I didn’t even know where I was going. I didn’t know much about events management either. But, when I came for the interview it was all really positive and I thought, why not?

I’m originally from South Wales, which is a good five to seven hours away on the train, so when I told my brother I’d applied to come here he was like, “Mum is going to kill you!” My family are all visually impaired as well, so I couldn’t even get anyone to drive me here. I was just kinda plonked here.

Can you tell us a bit about the Don’t DisAbility society?

We see it as a platform rather than a society. It’s open to everyone: whether you’ve got a physical disability, or something that people might not consider a disability, like a mental illness or an addiction problem.

We base it on the social model of disability. The medical model of disability would say, for example, that you can’t get up a set of stairs because you have a disability. But the social model says that it’s not that you are inherently disabled, but that there’s a barrier placed by society that stops you from doing things. If there was a ramp alongside the stairs, there would be no issue, because you’re not disabled by any barriers that society has put in place. Society hasn’t disabled you, so you can be independent.

So really, it’s not all about disability. It’s a platform for anyone facing challenges. We can give you help and information, or you can just go along to meet people. If you suffer from social anxiety or isolation, or if you communicate differently, it’s just a safe environment where you can have a private chat with someone who understands. Don’t DisAbility engages people who maybe aren’t as engaged with the university community as they’d like to be, and we support them as best as we can.

How did you first get involved with the society?

Before this academic year, there was nothing disability-wise that could help beyond course related things and academic life. So, when Mackinlay messaged me, explained about her ideas for the society, I thought, “Great!” I went along to the first taster session to give Mackinlay a hand. It was such a positive session, we had a lot of people show up and, after that, I just kind of ended up on the committee.

What does accessibility mean to you?

Accessibility really depends on who you are. It means something different to each person. For me, accessibility is something that helps me to engage. It’s being able to access learning materials or follow lectures, seminars and presentations. It’s also about accessibility to a social lifestyle. Whilst the uni has academic accessibility covered, they don’t really do anything for the social side of things. Being visually impaired, I like to know my route to where I’m going. If I go out, I need to know how to get there, how to get to the bus, how to get from the bus to where I’m going – so there are issues before I even get where I want to go. Worrying about all that stuff means that I won’t be concentrating on having fun, and I can’t engage as well as I’d like to. Accessibility for me would be being given the information I need to be put at ease.

You kind of have your own version of accessibility; two people can have the same disability and experience the same barriers, and they could still have very different viewpoints on what accessibility is.

How can we work to make our campus more accessible?

On campus, especially at the moment, there’s a lot of building work going on. So last week, they had a fence up and the feet were kind of sticking out, and when I was walking the route I always walk across campus, I nearly tripped on them. There’s not really a system in place that gives us warning for situations like that. If there are works blocking your normal route, you’d only know when you got there, and then you’re gonna end up being late for lectures and seminars.

A couple of months ago, for example, I had a presentation and I’d already worked out my route to get up to the seminar room I was presenting in, which included going through the Stannary. When I got to campus on the day, though, the Stannary doors were locked. My whole route was interrupted, and I was just stood there thinking, “I have no idea what to do.” The fact that there’s no system that warns us about routes being blocked means that our days can get entirely disrupted.

Also, another thing that would improve accessibility is for people to ask if we need help. I think a lot of people feel nervous and they’re not sure what to do because they’re afraid of being offensive or patronising. With questions like, “Do you know where you’re going?”, “Do you need help?” or  “Do you want me to take your arm?” I’ve experienced a lot of people, staff and students, just not being sure if they’re allowed to ask. But, in reality, we’re really not going to mind. If you want to ask a question, ask a question. And if we don’t want help, we’ll just say, “No, thanks, but thank you for asking!”

Can you talk a bit more about how people can improve accessibility?

Since first year, I’ve wanted to do a visual impairment awareness event, and I’m doing one as part of my third year project right now. Often people just don’t think about how their actions have an impact on someone who is visually impaired. So many times I’ve walked into a seminar room and half the people have left their chairs out, so I have to walk along pushing them all in so I don’t trip over them. I’m extremely light sensitive, and sometimes I’ll be in class and people will open up the blinds, or they’ll take photos with the flash on, because they just don’t think to ask first.

If you ask people what sensory disabilities are, people will usually say visual impairment and hearing impairment, but it also includes things like autism, where people have heightened or lessoned sensory inputs. I really want to give people first-hand experience of sensory disabilities, so I’m planning an event that lets people experience a simulated sensory impairment. I want to say to participants that these things that you’ll experience are what people with sensory disabilities experience every day in “normal” situations.

People think disability is serious, which it is, but disabled people are also regular people who want to have fun. I’m a regular person, and I want to have a laugh. People think that they need to be careful of what they say around me so they don’t offend me, but I kind of think that it’s the same thing as with anything in life; some things you need to realise are serious, but, at the same time, it’s ok to have a laugh. Disability isn’t as serious as some people take it, and that’s why our event is based on activities and games. Through doing a task or challenge as if they were sensory impaired, you can have a laugh, and we’re hoping that might bring down barriers.

Disabled Access Day is at the end of this week; why is it important that we recognise, celebrate and support it?

Honestly, until this interview I didn’t know it was a day – but I love that it is, and it definitely needs more promoting.

In Cornwall itself, there’s not really much promotion of disability. I’ve been looking for two and half years for help, even for just figuring out where Tesco’s is. There’s only one organisation in Cornwall, iSightCornwall, which is in Truro. When I first got here, I needed help to find out how to get to the shop and I got passed around between three or four organisations, and the only suggestion they had was that I phone Age UK, because they have volunteers to help the elderly go shopping who might have been able to help me find your way around.

The academic accessibility team on campus are amazing. They’re really supportive, and they get me any support that I need. But the social side, that’s where it’s really lacking. Especially with my course on events management, I spend a lot of time looking for venues but because it isn’t directly linked to an assignment, I can’t have anyone from the accessibility team to help me get there, and there’s no one else to help me.

Don’t DisAbility is promoting a scheme called the Buddy Scheme, where you sign up to be supported or to help support someone, whether you’re figuring out where you’re going, or just need some company between lectures. This kind of thing would’ve been so useful in my first year, so it’s a shame that it’s taken this long – but we’re so lucky to have Don’t DisAbility up and running so successfully now.

This profile was organised with the help of our Women’s Student Officer, Mackinlay Ingham.